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Survivor takes her story to the airwaves

Lonnie Feather took four bullets, used some smarts and lived to tell about it
by:  KATIE HARTLEY, With a dimpled scar on her cheek left from one of the bullets, artist Lonnie Feather stands next to a self-portrait she made after the attack. The inscription on the artwork says, “All I want is to live, to know life, to be free.”

What’s it like to be shot in the head? Very few people can answer that question firsthand, but Portland resident Lonnie Feather can, and she is telling her story next week on A and E Television Networks’ Biography Channel, on a new show called “I Survived … .” The third episode of the show airs Monday and features interviews with three survivors. There’s an athlete who was stranded in freezing weather while snow-mobiling in Wyoming. There’s a lawyer who was held hostage by thugs in Manhattan. And there’s Feather, an artist who survived a brutal attack by her boyfriend in Portland in 2001. At her home in Sellwood, the 53-year-old Feather appears collected and grounded, and even laughs occasionally over the unbelievable details of her ordeal. Tacked to the wall of her dining room are the colorful plans for a large glass installation she’s been commissioned to create for the Medford Higher Education Center. Behind the house is a studio where she sandblasts curving shapes into thick panels of glass, and which she shares with several other artists. Feather met Michael Hunter more than 20 years ago, when they were both in the stained-glass business. They were friends but lost touch. Then, she says, “He called me up out of the blue, and we kind of took up our friendship.” Hunter arrived in Portland from Texas, and began living in a motor home that he parked in Feather’s driveway. She didn’t know that there was a warrant out for his arrest, or that he had bilked associates in Texas out of millions of dollars. “We’d have a conflict, and we’d be able to talk right through it,” she recalls. “I’m thinking, ‘This is great, this is the kind of boyfriend I want.’ “He was very good to me,” she adds. “He bought me flowers and gifts — of course, with my money, I come to find out.” Finances were a surprise Things went smoothly until Feather decided to refinance her house. Her credit report showed 14 credit cards in her name that she knew nothing about, carrying $30,000 in debt. “That scared me,” she says. “I’m not like that. I’m very good with my money.” She suspected Hunter and returned home to question him. She figured he could sell his motor home to pay her back. She asked to see the credit card statements, and he went out to the motor home. When he returned, he walked up to her and pinched her neck so hard that she passed out. “When I came to,” she says, “he said, ‘I think you’re not feeling very well.’ I knew I was in trouble then. I knew it was serious.” She got up and tried to get to her studio, where people were working just yards away. Hunter pulled out a gun and shot her at point-blank range. “He actually fired four times,” she says. “I remember two.” One bullet went through her check, traveled down her neck and clipped her vertebra. Another fractured the back of her skull. “I felt like I was totally conscious and aware,” she says. “My brain was working. … I was going through a list of things, assessing how I was going to survive this.” She slumped down on the couch, playing dead. “I don’t remember any pain,” she says. “I do remember a really heavy sensation around my head, and I couldn’t hear very well. Just kind of this vibrating, buzzing sound.” She asked herself, am I alive? “I knew for sure that I would see the white light if I was dead,” she remembers. “So I’m looking for the white light. It’s not there.” She laughs. “So that was one of the criteria. So OK, no white light, so I guess maybe I’m alive.” For four hours, Feather remained motionless on the couch. “I calmed myself,” she says, “I knew I had to stay smart in order to survive and that somewhere, he was going to make a mistake.” Her attacker stayed in the house. He seemed to be waiting for dark, preparing to get rid of her body. Then came a piece of incredible luck. Someone knocked on the front door and Hunter went out onto the porch. Feather sat up and reached for the phone. She dialed 911, saying she’d been shot and giving her address, and then lay back down. Hospital was 8 hours later Once the police were notified, it became a hostage situation. The neighborhood was cordoned off, and the house was surrounded. Feather knew help was nearby because she could see a bright light shining into the house. Eventually, Hunter gave himself up. Approximately eight hours after being shot, Feather finally was taken to the hospital, where she stayed a mere nine days. She recuperated at her mother’s house, also in Portland. Her family packed up her belongings, assuming she would no longer want to live at the scene of the crime. But in the hospital, Feather says, she quickly made a series of resolves. “He wasn’t going to take anything else away from me, and that included my house,” she says — she lives there to this day. She decided, she says, “that it wasn’t my fault, that I wasn’t going to carry any shame about it.” Victims get blamed a lot, she says, especially with domestic violence. People ask, Why did you choose him? Couldn’t you tell what was going to happen? And that makes the violence even harder to talk about. Feather explains: “I wasn’t going to be one of those women that people don’t hear about. Violence against women is, I think, an epidemic. This happens. I’m not alone.” Since recovering, Feather has worked with other survivors of domestic violence. She’s also worked for the gun awareness nonprofit Ceasefire. She agreed to appear on “I Survived …” because of her desire to reach out. “I’m not willing to lend myself to something that’s sensationalized,” she says, “but it seemed like a good program.” On the show, she appears on camera, telling her own story against a dark backdrop, with no dramatized re-enactments. She wants to convey a message about her experience, she says: “that life continues. That we can have a joyful, full, rich, happy life beyond something that you think is the most horrible thing that could ever happen.” See www.biography.com for showtimes and dates. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.